What the science says

This briefing summarises the findings of a number of major reports on how noise from transport can seriously damage human health. This evidence strongly supports European action to ensure transport vehicle noise is reduced at source, i.e. making vehicles quieter.

Health

European Environment Agency good practice guide on noise (2011)

Noise creates stress to which our body reacts, for example, with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. These bodily reactions are not something that we can control or adapt to because we may not even be consciously aware of them. For example, the frequency of body movements during sleep increases at instantaneous sound levels as low as 33 decibels even though the noise may not wake us up.

EEA good practice guide on noise

European Heart Journal: Study on road traffic noise and stroke (2011)

Exposure to residential road traffic noise increases the risk of stroke among people over 64 years of age.

Click here for more information

CE Delft study on Traffic Noise Reduction in Europe (2007)

  • At present, some 210 million Europeans are regularly exposed to road traffic noise levels exceeding 55 decibels and 35 million are exposed to similar levels of rail noise, according to recent studies.
  • Around 50,000 people in the European Union die prematurely each year from heart attacks caused by traffic noise. An additional almost 200,000 suffer from all types of cardiovascular disease linked to traffic noise.
  • For people living in streets with average noise levels above 65-70dB(A), the average risk of heart disease is 20% higher than for people living in quieter streets. And while perceptions of noise problems can get better as people feel they are getting used to them, noise-related cardiovascular problems show no signs of improving with time.

Click here to download the CE Delft study

HYENA: Hypertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports (2006)

Exposure to 24-hour road traffic noise also increases blood pressure, particularly in men.

Click here to download the study

RANCH: Road Traffic and Aircraft Noise Exposure and Children’s Cognition and Health (2001)

Research in the UK and Spain found a clear link between traffic noise and effects on reading, comprehension and memory.

Study downloadable here.

WHO Guidelines for community noise (1999)

Classroom noise levels above 35 dB(A) on average can affect a child’s ability to understand what is being said by the teacher.

More information here.

Report: Road Traffic noise and incident myocardial infarction: A prospective cohort study

The new study from Denmark by Mette Sorensen et al on “Road Traffic noise and incident myocardial infarction: A prospective cohort study”, shows the link between exposure to long-term residential road traffic noise and increased risk of myocardial infarction. For every 10 dB higher exposure to noise there is a 12% increased heart attack risk. The study is of huge significance because it brings together results of health effects from noise of over 50,000 participants living in Danish urban areas (Copenhagen and Arhus). The authors adjusted their findings with known risk factors for myocardial infarction such as blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes or air pollution, and are so able to establish a clear dose-response relationship between residential exposure to road traffic noise and increased heart attack risk. They also found indications that road traffic noise had a high effect on myocardial infarction in people who never smoked.

Download the study here.

Health and Environment

WHO report: Burden of disease from environmental noise (2011)

  • The environmental impact on health by noise is second only to that from air pollution.
  • The health impacts of environmental noise are a growing concern. At least one million 'healthy life years' are lost every year as a result of traffic-related noise in western Europe.
  • Noise causes or contributes to annoyance and sleep disturbance and also heart attacks, learning disabilities and tinnitus.
  • A study in Germany showed that each year traffic noise causes 1,629 non-fatal heart attacks. In the city of Berlin, 1.1% of all heart attacks are attributable to road traffic noise.
  • In the Netherlands, nearly 2 million people are 'highly disturbed' during sleep by road traffic noise. This estimate is based on surveys in which the population was asked about which sources impacted on their sleep.

More information on the WHO report

Open letters

Expert support for stricter vehicle noise emissions standards (2012)

A group of noise expert has written to the European Parliament in order to encourage it to take tighten measures on traffic noise levels, especially vehicle noise, which have severe health impacts. They stressed the importance of having stricter standards on noise emissions in a very short time, as well as the rapidity with which vehicle producers can comply to them in a quite short time. 

“The World Health Organisation’s Night Noise Guidelines (2009) confirm that nighttime noise levels above 55 decibels (dB) are “increasingly dangerous for public health” and cause adverse health effects.

The noise maps for agglomerations and transport infrastructures made available by the Environmental Noise Directive and published on line in EEA’s NOISE database, prove that in this small sample (17% of the population) 32 million people in the EU are exposed to levels over 55 dB at night and roughly an equivalent number to levels between 50 and 54 dB. Cautious extrapolations to the whole of the EU at least doubles this number, arriving at a total of over 100 million exposed to high levels of night noise. This illustrates the worrying extent of public exposure to noise.”

“In order to effectively protect health and wellbeing, we believe that an additional step of stringent standards should already be laid down now, to take effect in 2020.”

Click the link to download the letter

EPA letters to Commission and Parliament (2011- 2012)

The European Network of Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA) has written to the European Commission and to the Parliament, calling for an ambitious revision of the Vehicle Noise Directive and, more specifically, for stricter noise emissions’ standards for all vehicles and for measures to cut noise levels at source.

“We see that the EU draft proposal has the potential to deliver real benefits for alleviating health impact problems caused by road traffic noise. Although we support the draft in general, the current proposal needs to be more demanding to guarantee this outcome. We strongly recommend putting in place now, legislation which includes an additional stage to the proposed option together with recommendations for developing provisions to curb off-cycle emissions, so that the failure of vehicle noise legislation that has occurred over the past 40 years does not still continue.”

“The development of tighter vehicle regulation is the most efficient measure to reduce road traffic noise”

Click here to download EPA letter to European Commission.

Click here to download the EPA letter to European Parliament.

Scientists letter to the European Commission (2011)

In 2011, twenty prominent European noise experts wrote to the European Commission warning about the negative impact of vehicle noise on the quality of life of hundreds of millions of Europeans if no serious action is taken.

Click here to download the letter.